Responsible parenting and leadership are a start. In between reaching for the sky (Toy Story rocks).

Screw the darkness. I prefer the lightness of Pop.

Sunday, February 26, 2017

All the Faith I Can Muster

Again with the silver and gold wars. The economics of labor, competitive advantage, business growth and profits have always broken the backs of, divided and suppressed the masses. The haves and the have nots remain seemingly affixed to their hierarchical posts regardless of the -ism present: capitalism, socialism, populism, racism, sexism, humanism, spiritualism, ad nauseam. And then we rise up, we blow things up, become bitterly fragmented and hopefully come back together -- and it still comes back to the silver and gold wars.

But our girls don't really know all this yet. They haven't been discriminated against yet being women, or have been singled out to benefit over other women because they're white. They haven't been paid 80 cents on the the dollar to what their male counterparts get paid. They haven't been verbally harassed or physically abused because of their gender, or enslaved in a third-world country to make things we buy in our civilized super stores worldwide.

Thankfully there have been and are positive, collaborative movements that help us thrive within our own tainted Eden, men and women alike of various races, ethnicities, social class and religious backgrounds. Like the emboldened local Women's March that the Mama (what I lovingly call my wife) helped to organize with other inspirational women and where our entire family (and community) had marched in. The global movement included millions of people around the world actually and is still strong in its positive insurgency. Like the magnet the Mama's mom got her recently -- KIND HEART * FIERCE MIND * BRAVE SPIRIT -- these words epitomize my wife and our girls and continuously inspire me.

Every few decades we experience a social upheaval, and here we are again -- from financial collapse and hope and change to the Tea Party a few years ago, to Bernie and Hillary and Donald Trump today. To the Women's March and the raucous town halls with our elected representatives throughout America where we demand that the many are acknowledged and their socioeconomic needs addressed by the few in power, not the other way around.

But our girls don't really know all this yet. Some of it, but not all of it. We talk about it and answer their questions generally. We also read to them about what's come before; we have a couple of the great picture books by Brad Meltzer about how "ordinary people can change the world." One about Rosa Parks and the other about Abraham Lincoln. For those with younger children, we highly recommend them. They tackle some pretty big adult subjects and make them accessible for kids' sensibilities and world views (and adults as well). We've read them many times with the girls.

Recently we read the I am Abraham Lincoln one again, and when we got to the part about the American Civil War, Bryce interrupted.

"You know, there are many silver wars all the time, but you know, there are gold wars, too. I've seen them."

"You mean civil wars, Sweetie," the Mama said.

Bryce shook her head. "No, silver wars, Mommy. Silver and gold wars."

Again with the silver and gold wars, the -ism's and the ad nauseam. We, the ordinary people, are again blowing things up in this country, and around the world, and I hope we can figure out how to put it all back together again for the better, knowing that silver and gold are here to stay. Hope may be a poor business strategy, but faith can sure as hell be a sound human one.

And for the sake of our kids, and yours, I'm holding on to all the faith I can muster. My girls got my back on that one.

Sunday, February 19, 2017

Why We Celebrate Our Crazy Little Thing

“This thing (this thing)
Called love (called love)
It cries (like a baby)
In a cradle all night
It swings (woo woo)
It jives (woo woo)
It shakes all over like a jelly fish
I kinda like it
Crazy little thing called love…”

—Queen, Crazy Little Thing Called Love


I didn't really get it until days later. Yes, it was our Valentine's Day family date afternoon/night, and we did spend quality time together as a family, for the most part.

First, the girls and I needed to get our flu shots, being overdue in that department and still in the throes of flu season. Plus, I'm going to be traveling again soon, and will be exposed to all sorts of bugs Americana. The Mama (what I lovingly call my wife) had already gotten hers months earlier since she works in physical therapy and helps older, more susceptible patients who live in assisted-living facilities and also those who have home health care.

Kaiser Permanente is new to our area and now has a downtown office in Santa Cruz, so that's where we went for our flu shots. We switched to Kaiser recently due to the rising costs of health care for families (don't get me started) and the fact that their services are more reasonable (by far and so far) compared to what we had (which had increased by over 25%), along with us having Direct Primary Care, all of which is a whole other Get Off The Ground article for another time.

The shots didn't take very long -- I went first, and then Beatrice, and then Bryce -- but before the nurse practitioner had the needle ready and poised for Bryce's arm, Bryce erupted in tears. She's never been a fan of the shots. Who is, right? She cried and shook her head and said she didn't want the shot and cried and shook her head.

We all told her it would be a quick pinch, but she just kept crying and shaking her head while the Mama held her. Finally she stood still enough for the nurse to give her the shot, and then Bryce wailed and cried even louder. The nurse left and came back in with rubber duckies for both girls and that perked Bryce up.

Then we were off to Bookshop Santa Cruz to buy books the girls had earned and for a Reading Flash Mob -- of which I had no idea what that was. Bookshop Santa Cruz has been an iconic community bookstore for over 50 years now. I came to learn that the reading flash mob was a gathering for kids and adults alike to come and literally read any book in the store for about an hour, whether purchased or not.

What I didn't know about the event (even though I'm sure the Mama told me more than once) was that the Live Like Coco Foundation, a Santa Cruz-based nonprofit, and the Santa Cruz Playground Project launched this series of “Reading Flash Mob” fundraisers to fund literacy panels at Leo’s Haven, the county’s first playground for children of all abilities.

And so we read for a great cause. Wait, two great causes. No, three great causes that included our own love of reading. We also found out that the Live Like Coco Foundation's executive director had a daughter named Coco who had died in a car crash at age 12. And so the foundation was founded to celebrate her spirit and for us all to "do good things" in our lives and in our community. Right on.

Out of all the amazing books at the bookstore, Bryce of course chose Dog Man Unleashed, another silly graphic novel series for kids from the creator of Captain Underpants (tra-la-la!). I read nearly the whole book to her during that inspirational hour while the Mama and Beatrice read to each other.

After that we were off to our family Valentine's Day dinner. All of us were hungry and we had a wonderful time -- until we didn't. Well, not the girls, the Mama and me. This is what happens sometimes in the adulting world. Life trips up your mindful happy along the way and fall flat on your fallible face. We both started worrying about our work and our commitments and the weeks aheads and all the other American crazy breaking down all around us, and then when one of us nearly dropped a plate at the end of the meal -- ka-boom.

We both got angry with each other unnecessarily and it deflated some of fun Valentine family we'd been having since the flu shots. For us at least, but thankfully not for the girls. The Mama and I survived the adulting fall and apologized, reminding each other that it's okay be get mad sometimes as long as we acknowledge it, own it and reconcile it. It still takes longer for me than the Mama, and yet we always get back to the heart of each other.

I didn't really get it until days later. Yes, a family bond is a crazy little thing called love, no matter how mad we may sometimes get with one another. And we will. And there will be more ka-booms between all of us as the girls get older. And more tears and shouts and laughter and love. And yet I cannot imagine, do not want to imagine, if any one of the ladies in my life -- these suns that rise in my heart each and every morning -- were gone.

This is why we stay in our moments as much as we can, hold fast to each one and each other, and celebrate our crazy little thing.

Sunday, February 12, 2017

Until It Eventually Does

A week later Goldie Rose Macaroni was gone. She hadn't done very well from day one, barely eating all week, lethargic and listing, one of her fins slightly smaller and sickly like Nemo's.

"What should we do?" asked the Mama (what I lovingly call my wife). "I don't want to find her floating when the girls get home. Not after Jumpy."

"I don't know," I said. "Maybe we should just put her out of her misery and then tell the girls what happened, that she was sick and died."

The Mama shook her head. "No, we should tell them that we had to take her back to the pet store to see if the pet doctor can help her feel better."

I shook my head. "I'm not sure that's a good idea. They know things die. Jumpy died. We should just be straight with them."

Again she shook her head. "No, that's just too much right now and I don't want to worry about it, or them worry about it. Let's just tell them she went back to the store, and if she's gets well, then we'll bring her home."

I nodded. "Okay, that's fine. I get it. Although they may not buy it. What should we do with Goldie then?"

"You take care of it. I don't want to see it."

I knew what that meant. It was the only thing to do. One of the only humane ways to deal with dying or dead pet fish: the toilet flush.

"You take care of it."

"I will."

This was the second fish pet in two years. The first real pet the girls ever had, named Jumpy Tree Summer, was a handsome Betta that lived for over a year and half before he passed. We'd been at my sisters for Thanksgiving last year, and prior to leaving Jumpy hadn't been looking so good. Lethargic and listing, all his usual deep burgundy flowing fins were fraying and he looked more and more sickly. Then he'd stopped eating. We were only going to be gone for a few days, but just weren't sure he'd make it.

Which he didn't. The Mama saw him floating as soon checked out the tank, and while I continued to unload the car from our trip and the girls were playing in the living room, she took care of him.

Later that evening, the full impact of losing Jumpy hit both Bryce and Beatrice head on. They cried and cried, and although Jumpy wasn't ever a pet they could hold, hug or stroke lovingly -- or the fact that the Mama was the one who took care of him, keeping his tank clean and feeding him every day --  he was still their first pet, the one they picked out at the pet store and brought home. The one that died, because everything dies, and not something we had to address since my parents had died four years earlier when they were much younger.

So they cried and cried, and even the Mama and I teared up. Prior to having the girls, we had three pets between us -- I had an adopted black and white Shih Tzu named Joshua, and the Mama had two cats from the same litter, a black and white boy named Charlie and a Calico girl named Chelsea. All three lived pretty long lives, with Chelsea living to be 22 years old. She was still living after Bryce was born and Beatrice was constantly pulling Chelsea's tail, something no cat ever likes. But in the end we had to put all three to sleep, an emotionally draining experience for anyone who's ever had to say goodbye to a beloved pet. Each time it was me taking them to the vet's office, holding them in the cold, white vet examining room, holding them in their final moments, balling my eyes out.

Because they are like our children, and siblings, an no one likes to lose a member of the family. And yet, after they've gone and you have growing kids of your own, you don't ever want another pet again, at least for us that is, for now.

Why? What do you mean why? Have you ever had to take care of your beloved children? They're a lot of work, and the parent that would have to take care of the pets as well, in this case the Mama, doesn't need another mouth to feed. You feel me?

Which is why when the ultimate softening came, the Mama agreed to get a second fish. Bryce wanted to surprise Beatrice, and so they went to the pet store and picked out a goldfish -- Goldie Rose Macaroni. Beatrice was thrilled and the girls were excited to have a pet fish again.

Until a week later and the final decision for parental euthanasia intervention.

"You take care of it."

"I will."

And so I did. Farewell, Goldie. Splash. Flush. Swirl. Goodbye.

This time it was more anti-climatic, being the short-lived second, although Bryce did cry later that night, unsure of what to think about Goldie going "back to the pet store to be fixed."

That's why no more pets for now. The girls have brought up hamsters, half-heartedly attempting to negotiate, which we've shut down. But then they'll go goo-goo over puppies and kittens when we see them on TV or in the wild. There was even a point where the Mama considered getting a pot-belly pig for a pet. I have no idea what she was thinking.

Forget it. Not going to happen. Until it eventually does.

Sunday, February 5, 2017

From Boys to Better Men

“It is easier to build strong children than to repair broken men.” —Frederick Douglass 

Women's March signs made with #BhivePower
I was called a lezbian man-hater for marching. Not directly per se, but the person who posted it within that cradle of uncivil cyber civilization known as Facebook, directed it at my wife who is one of the local organizers of the Women's March (now Santa Cruz County Women's Action) and who had been commenting on the why of the march to those who didn't care for it. He simply lumped her and all the other women who participated into the lezbian man-hater hopper.

That's also how he spelled it -- lezbian. No matter. I'm neither a lezbian, or a lesbian, or a man-hater. I'm a straight man, a husband and a father of two amazing girls. And yes, I proudly wore the pink pussy hat during the march. However, I have no vagina agenda other than empowering our girls to be independent, strong, loving and caring members of society, in spite of them being girls, and because of them being girls. Someday they will hopefully be women leading the way with other women and men to ensure all our human rights are retained and sustained in the proverbial peaceable kingdom known as the United States of America.

There were many other men who marched -- husbands, fathers, grandfathers, brothers, sons and more. There were gay men and transgender men and military men and religious men and atheists alike. But the same can be said, albeit probably a different mix, about the men who marched the week after for the March for Life. Either way, all of us men marched for our families, our communities, our country and our rights.

Personal and politically polarizing reasons aside, I want to focus on the boys now. The boys from every socioeconomic stratum and culturally and ethnically diverse background in this country (and around the world) who witness all this social unrest, the misogynistic, hateful and retaliatory rhetoric from all sides. Those who witness the men (maybe fathers, sons or brothers) and even the women who spell lesbian wrong and degrade liberal women (and probably most women), and those men and even the women who also stereotype and degrade pro-lifers as fascist Christians who want to limit everyone else's rights.

Unfortunately the bigger losers in this environment are the girls and the women. They're damned if they do speak up and damned if they don't. I've seen it happen over and over again with my mom, my sister, my wife and many other women in my life -- some of whom I've been emotionally overbearing with in my own past. Because of all that, I have little empathy for the men who feel left behind, trampled by all these women and minorities who have supposedly cut in line and taken over. Those who perpetuate the elitist, sexist and spiritual divide giving them justification to continue to denounce, degrade and retaliate verbally and physically.

I can't emphasize enough how complicated this all is -- our development and interpersonal relationships are never simple, black and white and wrapped in pretty packages with bright blue (or pink) bows. But it does start with building strong, empathic children, who eventually learn impulse control and to be safe with their bodies and with others, who are willing to listen to others even when they don't agree with them. Especially when they don't.

The other day my wife and I were in the other room when our oldest Beatrice cried out. Her and her sister Bryce had been playing, rough-housing actually, when Bryce got really mad, picked up a toy chair and whacked Bea on the head. We immediately invoked Kidpower safety rules and talked through why it happened and how instead they should've reacted.

The Mama (what I lovingly call my wife) brought out the "hold tight power."

Hold tight power meaning, "Okay girls, grab onto to your pants and say 'hold tight power.'"

Whine. There's always a little whining.

"Hold tight power."

"Okay, if you really feel like hitting or throwing, you can use your own personal power of hold tight power — the power inside of you to not hit or throw and act in an unsafe way."

To then take a beat and be safe and to think about more appropriate responses using our "calm down power" (something we could all use a lot more of right now). I can't emphasize enough how simple and powerful this and many other Kidpower exercises are for children (and for teens and adults).

Because according to UN Women and the current global available data: Between 15 and 76 percent of women are targeted for physical and/or sexual violence in their lifetime, according to the available country data. Most of this violence takes place within intimate relationships, with many women (ranging from 9 to 70 percent) reporting their husbands or partners as the perpetrator. Across the 28 States of the European Union, a little over one in five women has experienced physical and/or sexual violence from a partner (European Union Agency for Fundamental Rights, 2014). 

Are targeted. Choice words, yes, and this kind of violence is different than sisters hitting each other because play went awry -- a slippery slope however -- but too many boys are still growing up too violent, and no one's ever asking for it. According to the National Center for Injury Prevention and Control, women experience about 4.8 million intimate partner-related physical assaults and rapes every year. Less than 20 percent of battered women sought medical treatment following an injury.

It's horrific and complicated, and prevention and awareness still seems to be one of the best paths forward for both children and teens. The organization A Call to Men is one of many like Kidpower working to prevent violence against all women and girls, and ultimately teach safety and prevention skills for all kids, teens and adults of either gender. (Kidpower also teaches self-defense for emergency people safety skills, too.)

For those of us with children, girls and boys, but especially the boys, we have an ultimate responsibility to instill in them their own sense of personal responsibility, empathy, compassion, to be safe with their bodies and their minds, to "hold tight" and not react inappropriately and violently, and to encourage all of the above with others. We need to be clear that violence against women and girls, including sexual assault, harassment, bullying or anything related is never okay.

Whether you feel left behind or taken over -- and no matter where you take a stand in this world -- it's time for us to ensure our children grow from boys to better men.

“It was just before sunrise
When we started on traditional roles
She said sure I'll be your partner
But don't make too many demands
I said if love has these conditions
I don't understand those songs you love
She said this is not a love song
This isn't fantasy-land
Don’t go too far…”

—Rush, Cold Fire